Wanderings & observations – urban & rural.


Desert Spring, Take Two

My first day at Joshua Tree National Park left me eager to go back and see more. I had a better idea of the lay of the land so I knew what I wanted to see but I would still leave plenty of time for serendipity. (Photographs from Day One are here).

It was Saturday, and the local Farmers Market was in town. But first I wanted to photograph the Jimson Weed (Datura) blooming beside an outbuilding in my host’s yard. It was so pretty in the morning sun, living up to one name – Angel’s Trumpet. But if I ate it I would likely experience another name for it – Devil’s Apple!

Joshau Tree may be a small town but the Farmers Market is choice. True to their reputation, the California-grown vegetables looked bigger than life and super fresh. Too bad I couldn’t bring some home with me, but they wouldn’t have survived the heat of the car.


The desert beckoned…

Desert Sand Verbena, Abronia villosa, a common flower on the sandy ground near the road.

The park’s northwestern side, where I entered, is Mojave desert habitat – Joshua trees, junipers, yuccas, cacti, and spectacular boulder formations dot the rolling landscape.  As you head south through the park along the two lane road, over the course of 60 miles the habitat gradually morphs into Colorado desert. With its lower elevations, it’s a spare-looking  landscape dotted with creosote bush and highly adapted plants like the spindly Ocotillo.

I wanted to see both habitats so I planned to spend the day slowly making my way south, returning on the same route, with a side trip to Barker Dam if I had the time.


A tough Pinyon pine casts shadows over the sensuous monzogranite rocks. The crazy rock shapes are the result of millions of years of slow erosion.  Weather works its magic on old trees in the desert, too:



Everywhere, flowers bloom against a backdrop of the skeletal remains of trees that spread pale, twisted branches  across the sandy ground. This is a type of Phacelia – its flowers bloom from tightly curled cymes.

This magnificent oak commands the landscape – the cars give you an idea of its size.

Deep blue desert skies behind the doughy shapes of boulder piles kept drawing me off the road. This rock has an inclusion of different rocks running right through it, allowing enough water to be retained in the crevass to allow wildflowers to take hold.

Another crevasse provided just enough water to grow a yucca, at least for awhile. Some rock faces are bright with assorted lichens.

It’s a very spare landscape, but life finds toeholds, and flourishes.

About half way through the park, an extensive patch of Jumping Cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida) draws the eye. Not only is it covered with spines, but each spine is covered with tiny barbs, making it very painful and difficult to remove. I saw a sweatshirt abandoned on a fence near the Cholla Garden – it was bunched up into a ball from a close encounter with one of these pretty but dangerous cacti.

Nearby, a bee worked its magic on a Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) flower.

Desert Bells (Phacelia campanularia) graced a dry ditch near the road.  (For the botanically inclined, notice the tightly curled cymes again, with bell-like flowers arising off them – diagnostic of the Phacelias).

The road had dropped down a series of long hills, bringing me to the Colorado desert habitat.   The boulders were mostly gone, as were the Joshua trees.  Now,  the Ocotillo’s (Fouquieria splendens)  spindly branches swaying in the desert breeze were the only large feature in the landscape, other than the distant mountains ranges. It’s brilliant red flowers are hummingbird magnets – how strange it was to see a hummer out here in this harsh environment. (Wish I could have reacted in time to photograph it!)

The road through the park has no services (and often, no cell phone reception).  I was running low on gas and water, and there were many miles ahead of me. The single ranger station at the south end of the park was a godsend – I pulled over, replenished my dwindling water supply, and asked where the nearest gas and food were. It was just about 5 miles out of the park – a truck stop, called Chiriaco Summit. The promise of gas, food and even a Foster’s Freeze (a local ice cream fav) sounded really, really good at this point!

After gassing up and standing in line for a fabulous thick chocolate milkshake, I wandered next door to a courtyard holding a shrine – an unexpected oasis. And strangely enough, a few steps further down there was an old airport. Built for General George Patton, it is now the General George Patton Museum.

So if you’re ever traveling between southern California and Arizona on Highway 10, Chiriaco Summit is the place to rest.



Speaking of rest, I think this is enough for one entry. Soon I will post more from Joshua Tree, including a lovely full moon that rose over the desert.






Seeing Through to…





This isn’t the colorful, spring-inspired look you might expect to see this time of year.

Grasses have not grown high yet; the places where they dominate are still brown with last year’s tattered remains.

At a local preserve, a plexiglass sign lost it’s text, creating a dirty window into the grassy field beyond.

The contrast between the grass itself and grass obscured by scratched plexiglass interested me.

(Maybe I should have photographed the bear scat we saw on the path, too).

Also seen that day,

Moss and petals:


A tight fist of unfurling Bracken fern:


And trees blessed by lichens and moss:



APRIL: No Regrets

Seattle enjoys an extended spring season, thanks to cool weather and abundant moisture. We don’t have those temperature spikes that can turn spring into summer in a day. Right now the city is full of color – it may not be the yellow of a shining sun, but it certainly is the intense acid green of new leaves and the blues, purples, pinks and yellows of spring blooms.

There is a small, but choice garden tucked in a corner of the University of Washington’s campus. It surrounds the Miller Library, a public horticultural resource, and includes the Soest Herbaceous Display Gardens, a fragrance garden, a courtyard, and a transitional area tying the buildings to the Union Bay Natural Area beyond. It’s all set on a fairly small parcel of land, but there are many delights here, for the eyes, nose, and all the senses.

This weekend there was a book sale, a plant sale, a botanical illustration exhibit, and a garden full of early spring treasures. (Yes, I scored a few great books!)  Pearly gray skies cooperated yesterday by holding off from releasing the rain until the afternoon, giving me time for photography.

Above, one of many interesting compositions: Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) nods its creamy flower heads in front of Barrenwort, or Bishop’s Hat (Epimedium  acuminatum), with its red-tinged, elegant leaves and pretty little flowers held on impossibly fine stems.  At their feet there are anemones  in bud and tiny white flowers I couldn’t identify.

Below, a mix of black-leaved Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) with – again, I’m not sure – probably another Mondo grass – but what a beautiful look!


A Giant Wakerobin (Trillium chloropetalum) is planted under a bed of flowing ornamental grass. Typically these native woodland flowers are planted in a woodsy setting, maybe under a tree, but I think this is brilliant.

Below, a Japanese flowering cherry tree (Prunus serruata ‘Shirofugen’)  in full bloom – it’s just about the end of the cherry tree blossom time here, so this tree with its cloud-like bloom was a welcome sight.


This garden is typically “Pacific Northwest” in it’s restrained aesthetic – orderly and calm. The fragrance garden benches, like most wood structures here, are host to various lichens. Narcissus nods its pretty head shyly behind a bench, below.




The strange Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), above, is planted in the courtyard in raised beds with moss-covered boulders behind it.  It’s a European native that is not found often in the wild now, because of habitat loss and picking.  Here in the Pacific northwest, the Chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is similar; it too, is not often found growing wild. Two years ago I found a few on a small mountain south of here known for it’s plant community. They perched precariously on a rocky overhang, so I struggled to photograph them, crawling as close as I could. Yesterday’s stroll was easier.




Fawn lilies light up a dark corner of the garden above. Below, hosta spears boldly break through the mulch! From ground level, they are so amusing , especially with raindrops about to tumble from their tips.

I love peering at the ground in early spring, when plants are just beginning to emerge.



Below, another Bishop’s Hat, (Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’).  Above, three different fern fiddleheads are outrageous contortionists, expressing the intense release of pent up energy.

This appreciation of spring is dedicated to Peter Matthiessen, who died yesterday.  A celebrated author, nature lover and explorer, I knew him better as Muryo, back when we were members of the same Zen Buddhist organization in New York. Peter was a fantastic story teller, weaving tales and transporting you to faraway places with ease and finesse.

His writing inspired me, from my first encounter with it, in the New Yorker Magazine in the sixties. Later, in 1981, I attended a workshop on Zen and Photography that Peter co-led with John Daido Loori. I was impressed with the way both men handled an overflow crowd and answered tough questions. They mentioned studying Zen with a teacher named Bernard Glassman at a nearby Zen center. I had been interested in Eastern thought for years, but always shied away from any sort of group involvement. Matthiessen and Loori were smart people, I reasoned, maybe this place is OK.

Still I hesitated, until a few months later a flyer for the same Zen center crossed my path. I knew then the time was right. I ventured up to the rambling, old mansion on the Hudson where ZCNY took root, and it changed my life. For the next five years, I lived there, immersing myself in Zen instead of studying it in books. I would not have gone to that workshop if Peter hadn’t been leading it, and I would not have considered ZCNY if he hadn’t spoken well of it.  So I him to thank for the spark that set in motion an experience that nourishes me to this day.

He lived a long, full life. No regrets.


Gasho, Muryo.


It’s been two weeks since my short but intense trip to Joshua Tree National Park, a desert reserve a few hours east of L.A. (or if you’re really unlucky, 4 and a half grueling hours from L.A.).

The California desert is about as far away, climate-wise, as you can get from where I live.  If you only have a few days and a limited budget, it’s a welcome, dramatic change of scenery. And it’s only a quick plane ride to L.A. followed by that (rather nasty) drive.

I was lucky with the weather on the flight south – skies were clear and I was treated to an iconic West coast punctuation: major mountains of the Cascade Range. First up was Mt. Rainer, our lovely, clear day companion, then Mt. St. Helens, the rascal volcano, followed by Oregon’s severely sculpted Mt. Hood, and many more.  Geological drama! I love it. (phone photos below are Mt. Rainer & Mt. Hood)


Eventually, L.A. sprawl took over. After landing I made my way to the rental car counter. I had brilliantly secured my GPS in the very bottom of my bag, so I rummaged around and pulled it out.  Touching “CA” for state, and then typing in my destination – “Joshua Tree” – I was ready to roll.

Quickly the drive became tedious; at only 2:30 in the afternoon it was too early for rush hour, but it was stop and go traffic with nothing to look at but ugly walls and suburban malls.

After a few hours of that I HAD to stop!  The choices were limited but I noticed a sign for In ‘n’ Out Burger. That rang a vague bell. It would be fast. I went for it.

Pulling off the freeway, I found myself at not just any In ‘n’ Out Burger joint, but at one sharing a lot with – are you ready? – the In ‘n’ Out Burger University!   How cool is that?  I caught the sign reflected in my windshield, California palm trees included free of charge.

And the In ‘n’ Out University! How irresistible!  Gotta get a shot of that.  It turns out that the original In ‘n’ Out was just down the street.  That’s my order sitting on top of the car…

Back on the road, burger in my lap, I suffered through more traffic.  But it was made bearable by a fabulous, crunchy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside burger.

Traffic finally improved as I came to a narrow section of highway between mountain ranges, where the wind whipping through the pass has prompted the building of innumerable wind turbines.  For $35.00 you can treat yourself to a windmill tour of these monsters and learn all about them. Amazing, huh?  But I had other ideas…

By the time I cruised into Joshua Tree on scenic Rt. 62, the sun was setting behind the mountains.

I grabbed a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant in town and found my airbnb, a low slung home on a dirt road a few miles from the park entrance.

OK, that’s not the airbnb, it’s one of several outbuildings on the property. I like those simple structures.

And I’m not a fan of angels but this one, secured to the fence that surrounds the property, was pretty photogenic, I thought:

Not to mention that outdoor tub, seen in an earlier post. Altogether it looked like a decent location, and after exchanging pleasantries and discussing breakfast with my host, and I collapsed into a clean, firm bed.


The next morning I was eager to get into the park but first, my host took me on a quick walk around the property – her cacti were just beginning to flower:

A big Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) plant bloomed next to the shack. This is the plant indigenous people used medicinally and ceremoniously to contact dream helpers.

On to the park, after a quick stop at the local gas and grocery store for snacks and water.

Joshua Tree National Park is a large desert basin that encompasses both Mojave Desert terrain and the hotter Colorado, or Sonoran Desert lands. I entered on the northern side and spent my first day exploring the Mojave. What struck me most powerfully were two things: the Joshua Trees and great piles of monolithic rocks.

The gritty, dry surface of the rocks makes them ideal for climbing.

Joshua Trees are not trees – they’re overgrown yuccas with deep roots and trunk-like, fibrous stems. Some live hundreds of years.

In spring, they bloom:

Wildflowers at Joshua Tree are scattered about and best seen while walking amongst the rocks. This tiny Wooly daisy is easy to step on; the pretty desert dandelion is taller – enough to sway in the slight breeze, but I put a stop to that!

Flowers can blend into the arid landscape, but a closer inspection often reveals intense color. Desert globemallow:


A pretty red flower blooming on a cactus was reason enough to climb up for a closer look…I climbed up,

…and found the gorgeous Claret cup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus.  (Echino- means prickly or spiny, like the Echinoderms, or Sea urchins).

Another cactus, which is more common in the southern part of Joshua Tree, is the very photogenic Teddy Bear Cholla, Opuntia bigloveii.

There’s my car in the distance, on the main road through Joshua Tree. The rocks were really fun to clamber around on – you can see that rough texture – very grippy!

Off in the distance, a snow-capped mountain made me think about climate extremes. Here in the desert, annual rainfall averages 4.5 inches/yr. Where I live it averages about 37 inches/yr. It must be cold up on that mountain, but it was pretty hot in the sunny dessert, even in March.

On the way out there were more crazy-beautiful rock formations. This one had me thinking of dough, or potatoes :



I drove back into town for a break from the sun, picked up a brochure about the area, and learned that only a few miles away there was a vast sculpture installation. It’s the work of artist Noah Purifoy, who died at his home out here from a fire in 2001.

It definitely sounded like something I would like. I set my GPS for the coordinates of two named roads near where the installation was supposed to be. Around and around I drove on dirt roads in the desert, until I finally came upon this sign:

Turning down the dirt road, I located the site, and spent the next two hours spellbound by this man’s work – but that’s a story for another time!

Well OK, just one:

After a dinner in town I saw this on the way home: the full moon rising over the desert: a fitting end to the day.


We’re almost into April,

but before we leave this month behind I want to mention

the waters of March -

They have been plentiful

here in the Pacific Northwest – in fact,

too plentiful.

Many of you have heard about the mudslide in Oso, Washington

which has claimed

24 lives, and counting.

Some people will probably never be recovered -

the waters of March

having swept them away.

Images from past years,

of water

in March:



I heard one of my favorite songs on the local jazz station today -

Susannah McCorkle’s rendition of  Jobim’s “The Waters of March.”

Susannah was a musician’s musician, known for her sensitivity and her exacting work ethic.

For many years she sang in Manhattan,

and one spring day

she jumped out of her window there

and killed herself.

We can talk about despair, suicide,

and song.

But maybe it’s best to

let Susannah

do the talking:

Susannah McCorkle’s The Waters of March


A good article about her was published in New York Magazine, if you are curious about her life.

NY Times obituary.


Photo locations:

Stream – Washington Arboretum, Seattle, March, 2013

Icy Branch – Long Island, NY, March, 2010

Sandy Beach – Topsail Island, NC, March, 2009

Rocky Beach – Camano Island, WA, March, 2013

City Street – Manhattan, NY, February, 2011

Desert Reflection – Joshua Tree National Park, CA, March 2014



Looking into a pool of water, branches with new leaves are reflected as they dance on the wind.

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is “Reflection” and more images of reflections can be found here.



I went to google today to do a search and came upon a field of pale stripes in place of the word “Google.”  Who are we honoring today, I wondered?  It’s Agnes Martin, a 20th century American desert-dwelling painter of sublime abstracts. Her 102nd birthday would have been today.

Agnes Martin’s work is hugely respected; though her very minimalist canvases aren’t to everyone’s taste, I’ve always liked her work. I clicked on her name floating over the wash of colored stripes, and then on the youtube video that came up.  Yes, I remembered watching that a few years back.   I clicked on Images on the search page which, being a visual person, I often do.  Martin’s work is compromised on the screen, I thought.  In person and close up, the pale washes of color and careful tracings of pencil line across the canvas are very sensual.

Close up of an Agnes Martin painting at Seattle Art Museum


I just returned from a few days in the desert myself.  I stayed in Joshua Tree, California, just outside Joshua Tree National Park, and I spent most of my time exploring the park and taking pictures.


I love how a google search can open up new paths to unseen realms.  This morning’s search meandered past Agnes Martin and stalled at an amusing detour through the odd world of Pataphysics.  I eventually settled in to an essay from the Brooklyn Rail (an excellent Arts journal) that I want to share.

It’s about the importance of eating culture.

What? Well, the essay ends with a Rumi poem titled “Eating Poetry” and focuses on what art is, art’s place in our lives, and whether it’s OK to like or dislike the art that you do like, or dislike.  The author, Phong Bui (publisher of the Brooklyn Rail) asks us to bring our “honest experience” to each work of art we confront.

As simple as that may sound, I think that an honest reaction stripped of the accumulated ideas we have absorbed from media and placed on top of our own heads can be elusive these days.  But it’s well worth the effort – as Agnes Martin said in a 1997 interview, you need to know exactly what you want:  “I paint with my back to the world” she explained.

The desert seems well suited to the act of turning away from the busy world and returning to one’s own honest experience.





I will post more photos from the desert soon, including a number of pictures of Noah Purifoy’s fascinating outdoor sculpture installation in Joshua Tree.

When Inside moves Outside

In Joshua Tree, California, the warm desert climate makes eccentric dreams possible:

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to post a photo that conveys the idea of “Inside.” I’ve probably done the opposite here, but it was irresistible.  I have always enjoyed the idea of blurring the boundaries of inside and outside, especially in homes.

Last week it was too cold to use this tub next to a home in Joshua Tree but it must be lovely on hot summer nights. Across the road, another resident has plunked her bed outside, 30 yards from her house amidst desert flowers, cactus and shrubs. The rumor is that she keeps the animals away by peeing in a bucket and pouring the contents in a circle round the bed…

More photos of things inside are here!

(My apologies for the poor quality of the photo – it was taken with a camera phone in the evening.)

Daffs and Cherry Blossoms



I’m in the desert now, in California. Soon I will have photos of a place that couldn’t be much different than where I live. But until then, here are a few  photos from last weekend of daffodils at a botanical garden and cherry trees that have just begun to bloom near Seattle. Oh, and the dangling white flowers are on an early blooming northwest native shrub, Indian Plum or Osaberry (Oemeria cerasiformis).


There is nothing to be



There is a moment,


a sparkle inside my head – then,

the black box talks in my hands

of the unity of time

and its loss.

Of moments present

and past.

Of pretty things;

of love.

Having no idea what will come of it,

I wander home

to translate light.

Light that was

and is

and will be



Red Osier 1


Red Osier 2


Red Osier 3


Red Osier 4


Red Osier 5


Red Osier 6


Red Osier 7


Red Osier 8


Red Osier 9


Red Osier 10


Red Osier 11


Red Osier 12


Red Osier 13


I saw a bed of red osier dogwood planted in front of tall evergreens at Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle the other day. The deep blue-green gloom of the evergreens was a perfect foil for the warm colors of the stems.

(Also known as red twig dogwood, or Cornus siricea, the shrubby plant is an American native, used extensively in landscaping for its “winter interest.”   Its slender stems can be various shades of red, magenta, pink, and in some cultivars, yellow-green. It’s known as Cornus stolonifera, too, just to keep things complicated.)

The haze of warm color was inviting in the drab winter landscape. I remembered a photograph I took last year of a stand of red osier in another Seattle park. I had the camera on shutter priority and set a long exposure, then moved the camera up and down, following the growth pattern of the branches. It resulted in a brilliantly colored curtain of softly blended vertical streaks, included here in a previous post about Color.

So I tried that again and experimented with different ways of moving the camera while the shutter was open – up and down, right and left, in arcs, forward and back, while walking around the plants…it’s a pleasure to get your body into camera work once in while! Then I returned home and got to work, to play. I processed the images with a variety of adjustments and effects in Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects, in a few very enjoyable hours…

There was freedom in it, and pleasure.



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